Bill Quick was at a crossroads. The Nutley bike shop he’d worked at for 30 years had shut its doors for the last time and he was looking for a main street storefront to open his own. Amid his search, his phone buzzed with calls from old customers needing fixes—bike tune ups, flat tire repairs, new bike assemblies.
Quick had his day job—he was an engineer—but he started working on bikes in people’s driveways some evenings after work, the trunk rack of his Volkswagen Passat as his workshop. Tools piled up in the car and a few months later, something struck him: He didn’t need a storefront. He already had a business. It was mobile, and that was a good thing.
Now branded as Borderline Bikes, Quick has a fleet of three mobile bike repair vehicles working on 3,000 bikes a year—closer to 4,000 in 2020, when thousands more Americans saddled up in what was quickly dubbed “the COVID bike boom.”
Three months after launching Borderline in May 2017, he retired the Passat and got himself a work truck, a Ford Flex he built out with the essentials: air compressors for filling bike tires, large LED lights to do work in the evenings once the seasons changed, and compartments to keep his tools organized. In other compartments, Quick put 20 of every common part his customers would need, like bike tubes and brake pads.
He paid $3,000 to have the Flex wrapped in eye-catching zebra print, with his website IHateBikeShops.com printed on the side. He did the same for his second Flex and a third vehicle—a Smart car, much easier to maneuver around Manhattan, where much of his business is. When the first Flex broke down, he traded it in for a second Smart car.
“Not only is [wrapping the cars] effective as far as advertising goes,” Quick said, “It’s paid for itself 10 times over. When you get someone to focus on something for more than a millisecond, it’s a cool thing.”
His URL, IHateBikeShops, is pure marketing. While some people have a problem with the brashness of it, it’s certainly more memorable than Joe’s Bike Shop or Bill’s Bike Town.
Besides, Quick said he loves bike shops. He grew up in them. Beyond the repair jobs, a lucrative part of Borderline’s business is with shops: Bike shops contract him and his team to build large orders of bicycles so shop personnel can focus on day-to-day things. It all started with of his shop owner friends, who runs a high-volume bike shop on Long Island. He had just gotten 400 bikes in, enough inventory for the season if he could just get them built. He felt crunched for time.
“I said, ‘Wait, hold up. Let me and my guys come and work outside, because we have the tools, and we’ll build bikes for you,’” Quick said. “In two days, we built 160 bikes. His jaw was on the ground. There was packing material flying by, we had a guy just packing down boxes.”
The Long Island shop owner now hires Borderline for four days a year. That gives him enough inventory to get though the season without his mechanics having to build bikes.
“You have a professional mechanic getting paid $35 an hour, and he’s putting a kickstand on grandma’s bike. This guy’s well paid and he needs to be focused on things that are a higher skill set,” Quick said.
Still, the freedom of life on the road isn’t something Quick would give up willingly.
“I’ve been working on bikes over 30, almost 40 [years], and I’d have a hard time going back to a shop. Being free and released, not encumbered by the same four walls that smell like WD40, is a lot of fun,” Quick said.
“When you’re in a bike shop, you’re hyped up because you’re doing something you love, but before you know it you become part of this machine where you’re stuck inside without daylight. You keep putting out product, do your eight hours, and you do it again and again. The light can go out of someone’s eyes,” he said.
Quick’s two full-time employees left busy Manhattan bike shops to work on the go for Borderline. A third employee is coming online shortly. The job is decent money, enough that Quick quit his engineering gig a few years back in favor of the open road—of being on it, and of keeping cyclists on it, too.
“It’s a seasonal business. I went from a six-figure engineering job to a decent living where I’m just comfortable. The bills are being paid. I’m not going to be flying a helicopter in the Hamptons anytime soon, but it’s nice and rewarding. And I’m employing people and giving them a livelihood. It’s a different kind of payoff,” Quick said.